Thursday, February 23, 2012

Space: distant "water world" discovered

This Buddhist view of other worlds is not speculative nor is it dogmatic; it is personally verifiable for anyone who develops the meditative absorptions (jhanas). It is all "empty" (shunyata) not because it is nonexistent but because it is impersonal and without identity.

Distant water world is confirmed

(BBC) The exoplanet GJ 1214b, just 40 light-years away, is a so-called "Super Earth" -- bigger than our planet but smaller than gas giants such as Jupiter. Observations using the Hubble telescope now seem to confirm that a large fraction of its mass is water. The planet's high temperatures suggest exotic materials might exist there. "GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of," said lead author Zachory Berta, from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The planet was discovered in 2009 by ground-based telescopes, orbiting its comparatively cool red-dwarf star... More

() A planet orbiting a nearby red dwarf is the first known water world, while its newly discovered neighbor is the lightest. The planetary system around Gliese 581 boasts four planets. The newly discovered planet "e" (left, foreground) weighs about 1.9 Earths; "b" (nearest the star) weighs 16 Earths; "c" (center) weighs 5 Earths; and "d" (bluish planet farthest from the star) weighs 7 Earths. "D" orbits its star in 66.8 days, while "e" completes an orbit in just 3.2. A planet 20 light years away [was confirmed to] be the first known water world, entirely covered by a deep ocean. The planet, named Gliese 581d, is not a new discovery, but astronomers have now revised its orbit putting it within the "habitable zone" where liquid water could exist on the surface. "It is the only low-mass planet known inside the habitable zone," says Michel Mayor of Geneva Observatory. Mayor and his team used the European Southern Observatory's 3.6-meter telescope in Chile to observe the low-mass star Gliese 581 and a precise spectrometer called HARPS to analyze its light. The results were first announced at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science meeting in Hatfield, UK, and confirmed in Feb. 2012.

What does Buddhism teach about Space?
Seven Dharmachari and Amber Dorrian, Wisdom Quarterly
The Buddha said there were countless worlds. He classified all of them into 31 "planes" of existence. The first detailed reference to cosmography appears in the Buddha's first sermon (the Turning the Wheel of Dharma sutra), most likely inserted there after the fact:

When the Buddha set in motion the Wheel of Dharma, the Earth devas proclaimed... The Realm of the Four Sky King devas having heard them proclaimed... This utterance was echoed and re-echoed in the upper realms to the Realm of the Thirty-Three, Yama, Contented, Delighting in Others' Creations (Nimmanarati), and Delighting in Creating (Paranimmitavasavatti). The Brahmakayika devas (the "supremely-embodied shining ones"), having heard also repeated:

“The incomparable Wheel of Dharma is turned by the Blessed One at Isipatana, the Deer Sanctuary near Benares, and no recluse [shamana], priest [brahmin], shining one [deva], corrupter [mara], brahma [supremo], or other being in the world can stop it.”

So in a moment, an instant, a flash word of the Turning of the Wheel of Dharma went forth up to the World of Brahma [at the top of the Sensual Sphere]. And the ten-thousandfold world system trembled and quaked and shook. A boundless, sublime radiance, surpassing the glory of devas, appeared on Earth. This happened because the very first student entered the first stage of enlightenment: “Truly Kondañña has understood,” the Buddha announced, “Kondañña has understood.” - Translation based on Ven. Soma Thera

These Sensual Sphere worlds (lokas) might be called realms, spheres, planets, or dimensions. But the overall pattern is simple. As humans we most often concern ourselves with the Human Plane (Manussa Loka) without realizing that it is neither limited to Earth nor to our "generation" (this creation, this evolving genetically manipulated experiment by extraterrestrials, this iteration).

Gaia (the planet Earth) is only one of uncountable habitable planets. Suitable planets are easy to find for space traveling races and terraform. Those beings then worship their "creators" and are helped along to evolve and continue the spatial imperalism off planet spreading genes across the galaxy and universe. Time travel and other manipulations make it easy but mind boggling.

Astronomers have claimed the existence of a new class of planet: a "water-world" with a thick, steamy atmosphere.

Buddhist cosmology is more complex than it first appears. It is taught that there are countless world systems. What is a "world system"? A solar system, a ten-thousandfold planetary system (a galaxy), a cosmos, universe, multiverse?

What is a plane? Many mistakenly believe the answer is straightforward. Life at any time on Earth is stacked and complex; it is almost unrecognizable from one location to the next, one time period to the next, one socioeconomic status to the next.

Human life on Earth now would have to be dark skinned, female, malnourished, uneducated, and desperate clinging to the views of various subcultures. Few of us would recognize that as a description of our human world, but it does statistically describe Earth in 2012. Human life elsewhere in the solar system (yes, the visible nearby planets) and the galaxy is generally much more advanced. But there are ruined worlds (ala Easter Island).

The Great Wastes

The Buddha described unspeakably miserable hells (purgatories, perdition). These worlds are varied and overpopulated. The worst of them is perhaps in hyperspace, an interstitial hell between worlds. (Each "world" is conceived of as a globe or galaxy separated from others with crevices like the ones between the edges of transparent beach balls). There is no light there, and beings feel alone. Ostracized and doomed to isolation, beings suffer greatly there, much as if they were lost in space in a cold dead universe.

Officially the worst world is at the bottom of the Sensual Sphere. It is called Avici., a world (naraka) of unrelenting torment. Other "hells" are incredibly cold or perversely ironic, like Siberia or Alaska, wastelands. All of these general types of places are regarded as a single plane.

Unfortunate Realms
There are less miserable, albeit still quite unfortunate, planes -- manifold ghost realms, super-diversified animal worlds, realms of monsters [shape shifting reptilians (nagas), demons (yakkhas), and titans (asuras)]. All of these co-occupy the Human Plane. Spirits or transparent beings -- of the dead, ghosts, elemental fairies (lesser earthbound devas), dwarfs (kumbandhas), avian hybrids (garudas), and chimeras.

First Fortunate Realm: Human World
Life on Earth is diverse, crowded, miserable, and a rare experience to rejoice over. Given all of the lives one leads and will lead, all of the worlds one will be reborn in (hells and heavens of tremendous duration), all of the planes to be reborn on, human life is extraordinary unusual, in demand and, usually, completely wasted.

For it is only from this world (along with some lower akasha deva planes) that one has the opportunity to reach enlightenment and reach liberation from the otherwise endless round of rebirth called samsara (the "continued wandering on" in search of pleasure and meaning, away from suffering and despair). This is the only plane on which buddhas arise, and the heavens can only look down in amazement.

As part of a simplified description, world systems are all imagined as possessing 31 Planes of Existence, with a Maha Brahma (highest and first born being of the Sensual Sphere, which imagines Itself to be the creator of all), a Sakka (Indra, a Lord of Lords, King of Kings who rules over the first two space planes above the Human Plane), and only rarely a single fully enlightened buddha. These three are not actually beings in the conventional sense but rather stations or positions occupied by different individuals.
  • This extraordinary kind of buddha (a samma-sam-buddha) should not be confused with being the only worthy, extraordinary, or spiritual personality in the world. There are many worthy ones (arhats), noble ones (arya, a reference to partially enlightened beings in the human world and in some celestial worlds), non-teaching buddhas (pacceka-buddhas), brahmins (beings ennobled by their actions not by their birth), bodhisattvas (beings striving for enlightenment), good beings enjoying or suffering the results of their karma, and wretched beings suffering or enjoying the results of their karma). No being is all good and no being all bad. It is tempting to say that a buddha or arhat is ALL good, but that denies such a person's past. Indeed, a fully enlightened being has overcome all defilements, overcome rebirth on any kind plane
Elsewhere in the universe -- in other clusters, galaxies, zones, or dimensions (whatever a "world system" is) there is a Buddha teaching on a planet, visiting other planets in that world system, aware of buddhas elsewhere. Over time, there are buddhas that arise, but this is usually understood to be measured in geological time in epochs, eras, ages, and aeons on a grand Indian (Vedic) timescale.

The Heavens
The Buddha called all of the planes of existence above the Human Plane akasha deva lokas ("space worlds inhabited by light beings"). Even the miserable planes of warlike titans (asuras) and reptoids (nagas, dragons, feathered serpents) are lumped with planes superior to humans.

The many heavens begin with the lowest world of messengers (gandhabbas, gandharvas), "angels" or space fairies, incredibly beautiful humanoids in space crafts (vimanas, mounts, platforms, UFOs) who visit Earth often on behalf of higher order and more powerful devas ("arch angels"). These long-lived "lords" -- such as those in Tavatimsa or the "World of the Thirty-Three" -- protect this planet from other space beings and value the importance of morality, for they know it to be the path to rebirth among them.

Many of the worlds humans call "heavens" refer to life on advanced planets, but our language is confounded with mythology and hyperbole. Compared to human society, such worlds are paradises. But parts of this terraformed planet are also paradisiacal, made in the image of those biotic celestial worlds.

If we cling to a view of "heaven" as a single, cloudy gated community, we have gone astray. And going astray, it is very easy to stop believing in any such "nonsense."

Today, most humans believe in a transdimensional "heaven" but scoff at the notion that there is life in space on other planets: "UFOs and aliens," we scoff, "hah!" Religion has convinced most of us that "immaterial" worlds of blissful "souls" exist not seeing the danger in careless labeling.

The space worlds of the Sensual Sphere are tangible, material worlds like this one, which is also home to many unseen beings.
While such beings are normally invisible, they can be made visible by developing the "third eye" or "divine eye" (dibba cakkhu), which seems to refer to the physical base of the pineal gland. Many are born with this ability. But because most of us are not, or lose it after childhood, we are taught to laugh at the possibility of seeing beyond the "visible" light spectrum with the unaided eye.

"Seventh Heaven" is either the highest Sensual Sphere plane (paranimmitavasavatti deva loka) or the lowest Fine-Material Sphere plane (brahma-parisajja deva). It is not an immaterial one, of which four are very real and correspond, as karmic resultants of, the four immaterial absorptions.

DMT visions of the normally unseen world (

For more on Buddhist cosmology directly from the oldest sutras, see the Pali Canon's

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